ACCRA An Argentine naval vessel detained in Ghana at the request of a hedge fund seeking payment on defaulted government bonds left the West African country on Wednesday, a port official said.
The ARA Libertad, a tall sailing ship used for training, was detained on a court order obtained by NML Capital Ltd, which claims it is owed $300 million resulting Argentina's debt default in 2002.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled on Saturday that Ghana should release the ship after Argentina argued that a U.N. Convention on the law gives warships immunity from civil claims when they dock at foreign ports.
The Argentine ship was detained in the port of Tema, Ghana on October 2.
"The boat has just set sail after supplies (arrived)," Jacob Kwabla Adokor, the director of the Tema port, told Reuters. "Everything went smoothly. The ropes came off 20 minutes ago."
A Reuters witness watched from a distance as the ship glided away from its berth in the late afternoon, its masts and colors visible above the roofs of surrounding buildings.
A plane arrived in Ghana from Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, earlier in the day carrying 98 sailors to replace the 326 crew members who evacuated the detained ship in October, leaving behind only a skeleton crew for essential maintenance.
The Libertad is due to arrive in the Argentine seaside resort of Mar del Plata on January 9, at the height of the southern hemisphere summer vacation season.
"There will be a lot of tourists and they'll be able to visit the ship, which has become a symbol of sovereignty and national dignity," Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez said in a speech late on Tuesday.
"Holdout" creditors including NML have won several billion dollars in damages in U.S. courts over Argentina's $100 billion debt default. But they have struggled to collect since most Argentine assets abroad are protected by sovereign immunity laws.
These creditors recently won a U.S. court ruling ordering Argentina to pay $1.3 billion to NML and other sovereign bondholders who shunned debt restructuring deals in 2005 and 2010. The court decision was halted pending appeal.
The Libertad was visiting Ghana as part of a west African tour and was due to sail on to Angola when it was detained.
Argentina's Defence Ministry initially filed a motion contesting the detention claiming sovereign immunity for the military vessel, but a court in Ghana's capital of Accra upheld the seizure as legal.
Argentina's government has consistently rejected claims for debt repayment by NML and other hedge funds, calling them "vulture funds."
(Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo and; Hilary Burke. Writing by Joe Bavier.; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Christopher Wilson)